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Flour 101

by The Paula Deen Test Kitchen

Flour forms the structure for baked goods, so it is important to know how the flour you use will affect the texture of the your food.  Flour contains proteins which, when water is added, grab onto each other and form strong, elastic sheets of gluten. Through mixing and kneading, higher protein flours, such as bread flour, can develop even longer and stronger chains of gluten.

More or less gluten is desirable for various baked goods. High protein flour is not used in pastries, pie crusts, biscuits, or quick breads, because the extra gluten that develops can make them tough and chewy. Lower protein flour yields pie crusts that do not shrink and soft, tender, pastries and non-yeast breads. Here we explore the types of flour you can purchase and what baked goods they are best used for.

All-Purpose Flour:
Most national brands typically have an 11 to 12% protein content which make them perfect for baking quick breads, cookies, biscuits, and cakes.  Flour can vary in protein content by brand and also regionally; Southern brands are made from a soft winter wheat and Northern brands from harder wheat, meaning the protein content can range from 8% to 13%. If you like more tender, finely textured results, use flour that is milled from Southern wheat, such as Martha White and White Lily.

All-purpose flour that bleaches naturally as it ages is labeled “unbleached”; flour treated with chemical whiteners is labeled “bleached” and contains less protein.  They can basically be used interchangeably, but most bakers believe that bleached is best used for making pie crusts, cookies, muffins, scones, pancakes, and other quick breads, and unbleached is good for baking yeast breads, popovers, and cream puffs.

Self-Rising Flour:
For all brands, this is a uniform blend of all-purpose flour and leavening agents. Most bakers find self-rising flour an ideal blend for biscuits.

Cake Flour:
Cake flour has a lower protein content than all-purpose – from 6 to 8 %.  It is chlorinated to break down the strength of the gluten and is very finely ground, yielding tender cakes with a fine, delicate texture. It measures differently than all-purpose flour; 1 cup of all-purpose flour is the equivalent of 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons cake flour.

Pastry Flour:
Although similar to cake flour, it has a slightly higher gluten content.  This helps form the elastic bonds to hold up flaky layers of piecrusts, croissants, and puff pastry.

Bread Flour:
Bread flour is an unbleached, high protein blend of mostly hard wheat flours.  The elasticity of the gluten gives the bread its ability to retain gas as the dough rises and bakes, making it chewy. 

Flour Substitutions:
2 tablespoons of cornstarch + 7/8 cup all-purpose flour = 1 cup cake flour

1 ½ teaspoons baking powder + ½ teaspoon salt +1 cup all-purpose flour= 1cup self rising flour

1 cup all-purpose flour = 1 cup + 2 tablespoons cake flour

Our favorite flour-power recipes!
Grandmother Paul’s Red Velvet Cake
Biscuits
Cinnamon Rolls
Honey Whole-Wheat Pancakes with Honey Lime Butter
Old South Jelly Roll Cake


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